The difference among our next five honorees is so slight that we aren’t even sure it merits trying to split hairs any further. There’s any number of ways to look at these guys and rank them, so instead of attempting to persuade you that we’re “right” about their sequencing, we’ll simply present them in alphabetical order. That means our third honoree is Oscar Charleston.
Charleston had the whole package, much like his near temporal peer, Tris Speaker. They both played an aggressive, shallow centerfield and went back on the ball amazingly well. They both had outstanding arms. They both hit for outstanding power by the yardsticks of their times as well as for high averages. Building-block players, the kinds you tank in the draft to get because they are THAT good.
Indeed, Charleston’s twenties are a marvel. Unlike Speaker who never transitioned fully to the power game, Charlie made it his own. He slugged over .600 regularly in the Negro Leagues, and appeared on more leaderboards than peak Tiger Woods. We estimate seasons at or near 10 WAR and several more at an MVP level. Put it together with plus defense from an up-the-middle position and steals, and you’ve got one heckuva player. Or, you might say, that when it comes to Charleston, there’s a lot to chew on.
Unlike the redoubtable Speaker, it looks like Charleston had a tendency to put on weight. This hampered him in his thirties, decreasing his durability while also eating away at his speed and defense. He moved off of centerfield into the corners and finally to first base. Charleston proved a good first baseman, but his hitting also declined in his thirties. In this way, Charleston reminds me of Junior Griffey.
Thing is, the first twelve to fifteen years were super duper, and Charleston played at a high level for a long time. He debuted at age eighteen, was quickly a regular, and soon after that a star, and widely acknowledged as the best player in the black baseball.
Charleston was also a badass. Just look at the pictures of him: Big chest, tough mug, and hands that could crush you by themselves. He also had a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for a hot temper. Regardless of how much truth is in his reputation, I wouldn’t cross him.
Scouts, historians, and analysts have identified him as either the Negro Leagues’ GOAT or in the running. My own research suggests that’s no far at all from the truth. That’s why he’s in this gang of five we’ll elect over the next several weeks. That he’s the first is simple variation, but it might very well be apt.
So huzzah for Oscar Charleston, our third Negro Leagues honoree. Next week, come on back to see whether we return to the mound or whether we look up the middle again for our fourth honoree. The answer might be both.
In some ways, center field is the most interesting position on the diamond for me. First, we disagree with much of the baseball loving world by putting Willie Mays second at the position. Truth be told, if you put him first we don’t mind. We don’t even think you’re wrong. Nor are you wrong to put Cobb there though. And for fans of a certain age, that’s sacrilege. What’s even more interesting to me is that Tris Speaker is so clearly greater than Mickey Mantle. For those who are wondering, yes, it’s a DRA thing. Still, the gap between Speaker and Mantle is significant enough that no matter your defensive metric of choice, you’d be left with the same conclusion (assuming you think defense counts…).
Only three position differences here. Eric likes both Jim O’Rourke and Darin erstad here, while I put them in left field and first base respectively. I place Larry Hisle in center, while Eric prefers him in left.
For explanations of our systems and our lists at other positions, please see the links below.
We switch to BBWAA ballot coverage on Friday, but we’ll be back on Monday with right fielders.
As I’m sure you know by now, the competition Chipper Jones has for best third baseman of this era has announced his retirement. So that got me to thinking, er, playing with BBREF’s awesome Play Index. One thing I found, which is pretty cool, is that Beltre put up the most WAR in the game over the past fifteen years. And there I went down the rabbit hole.
Below is a chart with all 15-year periods in the game’s history since the start of the National Association in 1871, along with the best position player of that period. You’ll see that Beltre is in very good company.
1871-1885 Cap Anson 1872-1886 Cap Anson 1873-1887 Cap Anson 1874-1888 Cap Anson 1875-1889 Cap Anson 1876-1890 Cap Anson 1877-1891 Cap Anson 1878-1892 Roger Connor 1879-1893 Roger Connor 1880-1894 Roger Connor 1881-1895 Roger Connor 1882-1896 Roger Connor 1883-1897 Roger Connor 1884-1898 Roger Connor 1885-1899 Roger Connor 1886-1900 Billy Hamilton 1887-1901 Billy Hamilton 1888-1902 Ed Delahanty 1889-1903 Ed Delahanty 1890-1904 Ed Delahanty 1891-1905 George Davis 1892-1906 George Davis 1893-1907 Honus Wagner 1894-1908 Honus Wagner 1895-1909 Honus Wagner 1896-1910 Honus Wagner 1897-1911 Honus Wagner 1898-1912 Honus Wagner 1899-1913 Honus Wagner 1900-1914 Honus Wagner 1901-1915 Honus Wagner 1902-1916 Honus Wagner 1903-1917 Honus Wagner 1904-1918 Ty Cobb 1905-1919 Ty Cobb 1906-1920 Ty Cobb 1907-1921 Ty Cobb 1908-1922 Ty Cobb 1909-1923 Ty Cobb 1910-1924 Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker 1911-1925 Tris Speaker 1912-1926 Tris Speaker 1913-1927 Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth 1914-1928 Babe Ruth 1915-1929 Babe Ruth 1916-1930 Babe Ruth 1917-1931 Babe Ruth 1918-1932 Babe Ruth 1919-1933 Babe Ruth 1920-1934 Babe Ruth 1921-1935 Babe Ruth 1922-1936 Babe Ruth 1923-1937 Babe Ruth 1924-1938 Lou Gehrig 1925-1939 Lou Gehrig 1926-1940 Lou Gehrig 1927-1941 Lou Gehrig 1928-1942 Mel Ott 1929-1943 Mel Ott 1930-1944 Mel Ott 1931-1945 Mel Ott 1932-1946 Mel Ott 1933-1947 Mel Ott 1934-1948 Mel Ott 1935-1949 Ted Williams 1936-1950 Ted Williams 1937-1951 Ted Williams 1938-1952 Ted Williams 1939-1953 Stan Musial 1940-1954 Stan Musial 1941-1955 Stan Musial 1942-1956 Stan Musial 1943-1957 Stan Musial 1944-1958 Stan Musial 1945-1959 Stan Musial 1946-1960 Stan Musial 1947-1961 Stan Musial 1948-1962 Mickey Mantle 1949-1963 Willie Mays 1950-1964 Willie Mays 1951-1965 Willie Mays 1952-1966 Willie Mays 1953-1967 Willie Mays 1954-1968 Willie Mays 1955-1969 Willie Mays 1956-1970 Willie Mays 1957-1971 Willie Mays 1958-1972 Willie Mays 1959-1973 Hank Aaron 1960-1974 Hank Aaron 1961-1975 Hank Aaron 1962-1976 Hank Aaron 1963-1977 Carl Yastrzemski 1964-1978 Joe Morgan 1965-1979 Joe Morgan 1966-1980 Joe Morgan 1967-1981 Joe Morgan 1968-1982 Joe Morgan 1969-1983 Joe Morgan 1970-1984 Mike Schmidt 1971-1985 Mike Schmidt 1972-1986 Mike Schmidt 1973-1987 Mike Schmidt 1974-1988 Mike Schmidt 1975-1989 Mike Schmidt 1976-1990 Mike Schmidt 1977-1991 Rickey Henderson 1978-1992 Rickey Henderson 1979-1993 Rickey Henderson 1980-1994 Rickey Henderson 1981-1995 Rickey Henderson 1982-1996 Cal Ripken 1983-1997 Barry Bonds 1984-1998 Barry Bonds 1985-1999 Barry Bonds 1986-2000 Barry Bonds 1987-2001 Barry Bonds 1988-2002 Barry Bonds 1989-2003 Barry Bonds 1990-2004 Barry Bonds 1991-2005 Barry Bonds 1992-2006 Barry Bonds 1993-2007 Barry Bonds 1994-2008 Barry Bonds 1995-2009 Alex Rodriguez 1996-2010 Alex Rodriguez 1997-2011 Alex Rodriguez 1998-2012 Alex Rodriguez 1999-2013 Alex Rodriguez 2000-2014 Albert Pujols 2001-2015 Albert Pujols 2002-2016 Albert Pujols 2003-2017 Albert Pujols 2004-2018 Adrian Beltre
Thanks for everything, Adrian.
And happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
Do you have a good sense of what’s going to happen with Carlos Beltran when he hits the Hall ballot in a few years? I don’t. The guy never led the league in anything meaningful, he wasn’t very healthy during the second half of his career, and he had one of the more memorable called third strikes in the game’s history. On the other hand, he did make nine All-Star teams, he’s eighth in JAWS at his position (at least until Mike Trout passes him), and his post-season career overall was excellent, as evidenced by a 1.021 OPS. I’m going to err on the side of progress on this one. The voting body as a whole is getting better and better. Yes, that’s in part due to purging of old-school writers and new-school thinkers getting votes. It’s also due to some older BBWAA members making progress, learning how to think differently. So that’s it, the introduction to the first 20 guys in center.
Oh yeah, we both rank Willie Mays behind Ty Cobb [ducks].
Maybe you’ll like the rankings at other positions more. Here they are.
Finally, a really fun one! Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. If you’re too young to have seen Willie Mays, it’s possible he’s the best player you’ve ever seen. Sure, he’s behind a bunch of guys now, but for how long? A season of just 6.0 adjusted WAR gets him past Kenny Lofton, Carlos Beltran, Jim Edmonds, Andruw Jones, and Paul Hines. Since Trout is just 27 this year, let’s hold him at that conservative 8.4 for two years before decreasing it by one win per year until he reaches 10. If that were to happen, he’d also pass Richie Ashburn, Billy Hamilton, Ken Griffey, and Joe DiMaggio. Mantle is next on the list, but I think he’s too far away for Trout. Here’s what he’d need: 9.0, 9.0, 8.0, 8.0, 7.0, 7.0, 6.0, 5.0, 4.0, 3.0, 2.0, and 1.0. At that point, he’d be 38. And absolute greats can be pretty awesome at that age, worth far more than just 1 WAR. Ted Williams and Barry Bonds topped 9.0, and Honus Wagner was worth 8.0. Babe Ruth (and Bob Johnson) topped 6.0. And Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Bill Dahlen, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and Ty Cobb played like All-Stars. I’m not ready to say that Trout is those guys. All I’m saying is that those guys are great even when they’re old. Maybe Trout is that great. Maybe Mantle falls. Maybe.—Miller
We all get it. Mike Trout’s amazing. Yada yada yada. Our new normal: Someone posts some amazing tidbit about Mike Trout, and we just acknowledge it briefly then move along. This guy is doing things unseen in several generations, and he is absolutely crushing the league. How badly? In the seven seasons from 2012–2018 (through May 11th), Trout earned 56.8 BBREF WAR. The next highest total was a tie between Josh Donaldson and Robinson Cano at 38.0, which means that Trout has exceeded the second best total by 49%. Forty-flippin’-nine percent!!! That’s like a person running a two-hour marathon, and the second place finisher clocks in at three hours.
But is this level of complete and total dominance rare? With the help of BBREF’s Play Index, which you subscribe to immediately, I looked up every seven-year stretch in big league history, and, yes, Trout’s 49% lead is the highest. In fact, he leads the next best by 8 percentage points (Barry Bonds leading Cal Ripken by 41% from 1989–1995). In fact only two other players led their second-place finishers by more than 30%: Ross Barnes over George Wright from 1871–1877 (32%) and Bonds leading Rickey Henderson from 1988–1994 by 31%. Once again, Mike Trout is doing things we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, or even across all time.
Digging a little deeper, only 35 different men have led MLB in WAR over a seven-year span. Just 35 in the nearly 150 years we’ve been at this professional baseball thing. Of the 55 who have finished second, 33 appear on the leader list, so en toto, a mere 57 players have managed to appear on these lists, combined. Trout has now turned the trick three times (assuming that Cano and Donaldson don’t managed to gain nearly 20 WAR in 2018’s remaining months), making him only the 21st player to do so. The other 20?
Any time you’re a player under 27, and you’re in a group with Boggs, Clemente, Hamilton, Henderson, and A-Rod, you can probably feel good about your Hall of Fame chances. Given the gap between Trout and the next-best, it’s pretty likely he’s going to reach at least four to six instances of this particular way of looking at things, and the names only get better as the we go up the list. Amazing.—Eric
Where do I begin? Our first seven are pretty conventional, actually. But then there’s Put Put Ashburn who took for bloody ever to reach the Coop, and whose combo of high OBPs, steals, and ace centerfielding we find highly compelling. Paul Hines hasn’t gotten much of any attention from the Veterans Committees, and think he’s pretty great. Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton got knocked off crowded Hall ballots due to the 5 percent rule, and The Toy Cannon didn’t even get one stinking vote in 1983 before falling off the slate. I’m not sure whether Willie Davis ever appeared on a Hall ballot. Andruw Jones just barely avoided getting thrown in his Hall of Fame rodeo. We’ve got all these guys in our top twenty. We have the Duke juuuuuuust inside the top fifteen as opposed to chumming with Willie and Mickey, we’ve got little-known 1800s guys popping onto the bottom of the top twenty, and we don’t have any of Kirby Puckett, Larry Doby, Earl Averill, Edd Roush, or Earle Combs in it. Yeah, we’re flying our centerfield freak flags high. Or maybe geek flag is a better term.—Eric
It has to be Ty Cobb and Willie Mays. I think a year or three ago some ESPN piece called Mays the best player in baseball history. That’s strange. It’s Ruth, it’s Ruth, it’s so clearly Ruth. Unless you timeline. And then it’s Bonds. Unless you think PEDs changed everything. And then it’s, um, maybe Mays? Or a bunch of other potential guys. Anyway, if ESPN says the best player ever is Mays and we don’t even think he’s the best at his position, we diverge most from conventional wisdom on Cobb and Say Hey. Look at our numbers though. The two are separated by three percentage points for me and four for Eric. At their level, that’s a virtual tie. You say Mays was better than Cobb? Okay, I’m not going to argue.—Miller
Our order for the first eight is identical. Then our next seven are the same, though in a different order. And then there’s a bit of separation in some, but most players are close enough.—Miller
Primarily, Jim O’Rourke. Now, most folks think of Orator Jim as a left fielder, but a) he played pretty much everywhere, and b) he’s a centerfielder. Here’s the appearances that BBREF current estimates for O’Rourke by position:
Not that is utility. Says in that list that O’Rourke’s appearances in centerfield trail his appearances in left field by 300 games. But when it comes to the 19th Century, things get wacky. The leagues’ schedules changed almost constantly until 1904 when the 154-game slate became the standard. Every few years, as the game’s popularity grew, the magnates would tack on more games, increasing profits on ticket sales and concessions. Yay! More baseball! But for guys like me who have a little dollop of engineering in their brain, assigning a primary position without accounting for the schedule feels not quite right. Especially when you also prefer to assign position based on where the player earned the most value. (For examples why, see Banks, Ernie and Rose, Pete.) So when we actually break out O’Rourke’s appearances, we find out that most of his innings in left field came in the last seven years of his career, when the schedule was as much as twice as long as in his first ten or fifteen years. During that earlier time, O’Rourke got most of his centerfielding in. Even if we adjusted the innings for a 162 sked and all that, it probably wouldn’t make enough difference to overcome the late left field advantage, but it would be awfully close. But when I season by season partition his WAR (with all my adjustments baked in) based on the percentage of his defensive innings played (or estimated to have be played) at each position, centerfield wins out over left field. Much of that is due to the fact that O’Rourke was at his physical peak during the late 1870s and a few subsequent seasons when he played centerfield most often. He was in his closing act when he went to left field to stay late in his days. “Simple” as that.—Eric
Rich Ashburn had a short career by the standard of great players—just fifteen years. He rarely missed a game, so his plate appearances don’t reflect it, and he went out on a high note. Well, as high as you can get on the 1962 Mets, for whom he netted 2.1 WAR with a 121 OPS+. If Whitey had chosen to keep grinding along with the Amazings, he might have slipped a couple pegs down the ladder. Any system that prefers longevity to peak or prime value might see Ashburn a little less favorably.—Eric
If defensive numbers are overblown, as Bill James suggests, we may overrate Andruw Jones. If the mythology put into song by Terry Cashman is right, we may underrate Duke Snider. But I want to take a shot at explaining a player who we rank correctly. I am incredibly confident that Joe DiMaggio is exactly the fifth best center fielder ever. At the HoME, we don’t give credit for seasons missed due to military service. Maybe we should, but I prefer our position for a myriad of reasons. Still, let’s say we replace DiMaggio’s three missed seasons. If we give him 5.6 WAR each year, which tips just a little more to what he did before he left compared to when he returned, he’s still fifth.—Miller
Join us back here in a week as we finish off center field.
Not too long ago I read a tweet calling Jim Palmer an inner circle Hall of Famer. I immediately recoiled. Then I did what any stats guy or gal would do. I got out my spreadsheet.
What I found is Palmer’s name next to the number 31 among hurlers. When I last checked with Eric, he had Palmer 35th. And by JAWS, he’s 37th. I was satisfied; I felt my initial reaction was pretty much justified. But then I thought some more and realized that if I’m going to take pride in what I thought was a correct reaction, I’d better have an answer to who belongs in the inner circle.
So let’s think about the HoME. As of today, we’ve inducted 220 players. How many of those players do we think should be in the inner circle? Through the magic of BBREF, I know that there have been approximately 19,100 players in major league history. That means one out of 86 or 87 players ever is in the HoME. If we took the same percentage as the inner circle, we’d be looking at three guys, maybe Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson. Maybe. But three guys don’t form a good circle.
Let’s reconsider. If, for example, we consider only hitters who had extensive careers, perhaps we put the mark at 5,000 plate appearances. Then we may have something. There are just shy of 1,000 hitters at that level, and there are about 160 hitters in the HoME. So about 16% of all players with what I’m calling extensive careers are in the HoME. And if we take 16% of the players in the HoME, we have 35 players in the HoME’s inner circle. That would be 9-10 pitchers and 25-26 hitters. And that seems reasonable enough.
So by my fictional and unofficial standard, here’s the inner circle of the Hall of Miller and Eric, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
C: Johnny Bench
1B: Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Roger Connor
2B: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan
3B: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews
SS: Honus Wagner
LF: Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson
CF: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle
RF: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente
P: Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson
Do you think my inner circle is too large? Too small? Missing someone? Please let me know in the comments.
A friend recently asked me what player had the best season ever. And I didn’t know. I remembered that Babe Ruth in 1927 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 had the same ridiculous WAR, and I chose Ruth’s 1927 season, forgetting how astoundingly good his 1923 was.
I got thinking more deeply about the question, and I started thinking about something we don’t often discuss at the HoME – the playoffs. While the HoME may be an individual honor, the idea of best all-time season should have a team component. If you don’t make the playoffs, or if you lose your season’s final game, you leave that campaign with a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth. Or at least you should. If your team doesn’t win it all, you haven’t had the greatest season of all time, no matter what you did personally.
So what I did was check out all 56 seasons of 10+ WAR by position players (I’ll have a post dealing with pitchers a bit later). Then I isolated just those of players who won the World Series. As it turns out, only 11 times did a 10-win player’s teammates help enough to get a World Series trophy. So what I did next was look at the 9-win seasons with excellent World Series performances. Doing so added four more seasons to our list.
And we’re counting ‘em down.
For me, Collins is the most underappreciated inner circle guy ever. His is the weakest regular season on the list, but it’s one of the stronger World Series. He hit .421/.450/.630 with three stolen bases in the five game thrashing of the Giants. To set the stage in Game 1, he went 3-3 with three runs scored. Two games later it was 3-5 with two runs and three driven in. Collins’ World Series performance was great, but there was nothing so incredibly dramatic. And again, his regular season performance is the weakest on our list.
Mantle’s 1961 season featured the home run chase with Roger Maris that made the season famous. It was actually Mantle’s third best year by WAR, but it’s his second on this list since the Yanks didn’t win the 1957 World Series. Mantle’s ’61 campaign ranks this low because of his .167/.167/.167 line in a five game hammering of the overmatched Reds.
The Big Red Machine was at its best in a 4-0 sweep of the Yankees in the ’76 Fall Classic. Morgan was great, going .333/.412/.733. He homered in the opener, had two hits next game, drove in a run in the third, and scored one and stole his fourth base in the finale.
After a tremendous regular season, Say Hey was quiet in October. But even if he had a line better than .286/.444/.357, it would be pretty hard to elevate him because the Giants swept the Indians. No real drama.
The Flying Dutchman’s season was merely pedestrian by the standards of this list, and it was only his fourth best campaign overall, at least by WAR. But at 35, it was his only World Series win, and he was excellent, hitting .333/.467/.500. Wagner had a hit and a run in the Game 1 win; three hits, a run, and two batted in during the Game 3 win; a hit and a run during the Game 5 win; and a hit, a run, and two batted in during the Game 7 close out.
It was the eighth game of the 1912 World Series. Christy Mathewson was on the mound for the Giants trying to knot the Series at four games each. But after an error and a walk, Tris Speaker stepped to the plate with one out. He singled in a run to tie the game… On one hand, it was the bottom of the inning. On the other, it only tied the game, Speaker didn’t score the winning run, and the Sox could have lost this game and still won the World Series. Speaker was very good in the Series with a .300/.382/.467, yet he stays at #9. More drama and better seasons are ahead.
The Iron Horse was an absolute monster in the 1928 World Series, even better than Ruth. He hit .545/.706/.1.727, and he homered four times in the four games, once in the second game and the finale, two more in Game 3.
Of all players on this list, Boudreau is the most surprising. That’s not because he’s not great, just because he’s not an inner circle guy. He had only season over 8 WAR and only five above 4.5 WAR. Backed by an unusually high .360 BABIP, Old Shufflefoot led the Indians to their last World Series title, but he wasn’t great when they got there, hitting a pedestrian .273/.333/.455. Still, the guy is the only player/manager on the list. That has to count for something. The combination of being the team’s best player and their manager, vaults him ahead of others with stronger WAR or postseason work.
Little Joe only posted a .259/.364/.296 line in the 1975 Fall Classic. What he did in two key games gets him to this level. In the bottom of the 10th in Game 3, he singled in Cesar Geronimo to win the game. Then with two outs in Game 7’s 9th inning, he singled in the tie-breaking run to give the Reds the World Series victory.
The Athletic star had a phenomenal season, and then he starred in the World Series to the tune of .429/.478/.619. He was great. It was hard to be much greater. But his team was so dominant, outscoring the overmatched Cubs by 20 runs in five games. Others were even greater, or they had a harder road to the title.
We’re looking at nearly the most impressive World Series performance of the bunch, even if it was second to Gehrig’s that year. Ruth homered three times, all in the Game 4 finale, en route to a .615/.647/.1.375 line. The Yankees outscored the Cards 27-10 in the sweep, and it was Babe’s sixth ring. Of course, the four remaining regular seasons were all better than the 1928 vintage of the Bambino, and it was hard to have had an easier ride in October.
This season was vintage Mantle, as good as it got, and just about as good as it ever got. In the World Series, he was merely good with a .250/.400/.667 line, and the Yankees needed him to be. His biggest hit was a solo homer to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning of Game 5. The Yankees won 2-0 and took a 3-2 lead in the Series. If he were better in the World Series, this would be the second best season ever.
In the World Series, Gehrig drove in a pair of runs in the one-run Game 1 against the Pirates. That’s cool. And he hit .308/.438/.769. That’s cool too. A strong World Series and an incredible regular season get him here.
Like Gehrig, Ruth was a star in the ’27 World Series. He had three hits and scored two runs in a one-run opening game. He hit a three-run homer two games later. And to close things out, he homered again and drove in three. A .400/.471/.800 line seals the deal over Gehrig for the second best season ever.
Ultimately, the best regular season ever is the best season ever. Ruth homered three times in the six game World Series win, while the rest of the team homered just twice. In Game 2, he homered twice in a 4-2 Yankee win. And he got the scoring started in the deciding game with another homer in the top of the first. His overall line of .400/.471/.800 plus the most incredible regular season we can imagine makes Babe Ruth’s 1923 season the best one ever.
Because they came so close but didn’t pull through last season, the 1948 and 1920 champs have the longest current drought in the game. Known as the Blues in 1901, the Bronchos in 1902, and the Naps from 1903 through 1914, the Indians are the only team, I believe, whose Rushmore all played the same position. And much to my surprise, they’re the third best team in AL history in winning percentage.
By WAR, the greatest Indian ever is Nap Lajoie. However, he played parts of eight years with AL and NL Philadelphia clubs. Second on the Indian list is Red Sox great Tris Speaker. And fourth is another who played for the Red Sox, Lou Boudreau. Stan Coveleski is fifth on the Indian list, but he played for the A’s, Sens, and Yanks. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome also put up great numbers while in Cleveland, but they both played everywhere. Earl Averill held on with the Tigers and Braves, and Joe Sewell was a Yankee for three years.
Al Rosen is the best hitter in Indian history never to play elsewhere, posting 32.6 WAR over seven full seasons before retiring because of issues with his back and legs. He’s 23rd in Indian history in WAR, but that’s not enough. There were four Cleveland pitchers who topped him, making them the only team without a hitter on their Rushmore.
Bob Feller: Rapid Robert was a hit after joining the Indians at age 17 in 1936. If we replace the three seasons and the one partial season he missed due to WWII with the average of the two years before and the two full years after he left, he moves from 63.6 WAR to an insane 84.4 WAR. That would move him from a tie for 144th with Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams to 53rd, just ahead of Pedro Martinez and Ken Griffey. I’m not saying this would have happened, just giving an idea about what might have been.
Bob Lemon: With 48.8 WAR, Lemon is the sixth best Indian ever. Of course, less than 77% of Lemon’s value was on the mound. He was truly an excellent hitter, adding 0.6 WAR to 1.9 WAR every year from 1947-1956 at the plate. From 1948-1950 he averaged six homers and 22 ribbies with a .334 OBP. With just pitching value, there are only two years when he threw like an All-Star. He’s in the Hall, which is quite a surprise given that Hall voters must look at pitcher offense less than I do, and Lemon is only 117th all-time among pitchers, right between Frank Viola and Ron Guidry.
Mel Harder: Eleventh on the all-time Indian WAR chart, Harder was a better pitcher than Lemon, putting up 47.9 WAR on the mound but giving back 4.2 at the dish, for 43.7 total WAR. During his 1932-1935 peak, he trailed only Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean in WAR among hurlers. Expanding things to 1939, and only Lefty Grove also gets past him. We’re looking at a star here.
Addie Joss: With similar star power to Harder, Joss nevertheless is in the Hall. Tied with him on the Indian WAR list with 43.7, Joss and his 160 wins are in the Hall due to a 1.89 career ERA. Even though he played only nine seasons, the 1977 Board of Directors passes a special resolution to waive the ten-year rule for him. There was no good reason for that decision. BBREF neutralizes Joss’ career ERA at 2.88, still a fine number, but c’mon. Imagine 170 wins and a 2.88 ERA in the last fifty years. Such a pitcher would have no chance at the Hall. If he pitched in the run environment of, say, 2004, his ERA would be 3.75. Kevin Brown pitched around that time. He finished with 211 wins and a 3.28 ERA, and he hasn’t sniffed the inside of Cooperstown.
My Indian Rushmore
Nap Lajoie: Yes, he had a significant enough career with the A’s, but he’s Cleveland’s all-time leader in WAR, and he had nine of his ten best years by WAR with the Indians.
Lou Boudreau: I’m not going to hold his short period of time in Boston against him. Speaker played in Boston too, but he had quite a significant career there. Each of Boudreau’s ten best seasons were with Cleveland.
Kenny Lofton: I’m skipping a couple of guys on Cleveland’s all-time WAR list to get to him, namely Stan Coveleski and Bob Lemon. My favorite Lofton memory is how he ran the bases like a brilliant madman in the 1995 playoffs, tripling twice and stealing 11 bases in the ALCS and WS.
Tune in next week for a look at the Cincinnati Reds.
My team, the Red Sox, were the inspiration for this project, this week in our third installment. I wanted to find a way to etch four faces, none of them being Roger Clemens’. And we’ve done that with this project, requiring that only players who spent their entire careers with the Red Sox can grace the mountain. Boston has had an AL franchise since the league began in 1901, though they were known as the Boston Americans for the first seven years. Let’s see who will represent the 8-time champs and owners of the second best record in AL history.
Well, clearly Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs left Boston. They’re third and fourth in Red Sox WAR. Other greats, Cy Young and Tris Speaker, had extensive careers with different Cleveland franchises. At age-39 Dwight Evans had a decent bat for a season in Baltimore, and David Ortiz spent parts of six seasons in Minnesota before they made the mistake of dumping him. Pedro won a Cy Young Award in his final season in Montreal and a K/BB title in his first year as a Met.
It’s also not Jim Rice (47.4 WAR) or Rico Petrocelli (39.1 WAR), two all-time great Red Sox who have been bested by four others for status among all-time great solo Sox.
Ted Williams: The Kid won a dozen OBP titles and might have had his two greatest seasons immediately before and immediately after he returned from the service. If we give him the average of the two years before he left and the two after he returned for the three years he was away, his 123.1 WAR would turn into 154.6. He’d move from 14th in history to 6th, topped by only Ruth, Cy, the Big Train, Bonds, and Mays. If we do the same for the time he missed for Korea, he’d be up to 165.2 WAR, passing Mays and Bonds, and within a hair of Walter Johnson.
Carl Yastrzemski: We know that Yaz won the triple crown in 1967 putting up an insane 12.4 WAR. What we don’t think of is his 1968 season when he totaled 10.5 WAR, yet finished just ninth in MVP voting, behind two guys with less than half of his value, Frank Howard and teammate Hawk Harrelson. Excluding Ruth, Bonds, Mantle, Mays, and Williams, only ten hitter seasons ever top Yaz in 1968, his second best campaign. He finished with 96.1 career WAR.
Dustin Pedroia: Just this season, Laser Show has moved into the top-10 in Red Sox WAR. At age-32 and signed through 2021, he feels like someone who will end his career in Boston. He seems sure to pass Papi, Pedro, and Speaker on the Sox list. Whether or not he can move further up will have everything to do with health. The same goes for his HoME case. The Hall will like the MVP, Rookie of the Year, and rings in 2007 and 2013. But second base is a stacked position. Robinson Cano is better. Chase Utley will look better upon retirement. And it’s not unlikely Ian Kinsler will too. Jose Altuve’s story is still to be told. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the next three seasons play out for Pedroia.
Bobby Doerr: Helping to make Pedroia’s Hall case is Doerr. He’s also a Red Sox second baseman, he’s in the Hall, and Pedroia passed him in career WAR this season. In addition to his Hall credential, Doerr is just barely in the HoME. He wasn’t until Retrosheet published more data to show that his double play proclivity wasn’t as bad as we thought. Once we saw the update, it made his career numbers look better than they had before more detail was uncovered. As of now, Doerr is 24th on my second base list. Pedroia is 31st, passing Lonny Frey this season. It’ll be interesting to see if Pedroia can top the nine-time All-Star and 1946 World Series star when it’s all said and done.
Pedro Martinez: Those who are about my age can appreciate that we live in lucky baseball times. We got to watch Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Clayton Kershaw at their best. For me, Pedro tops them all. One of my favorite Pedro stats is that from 1998-2003, Pedro’s first six years in Boston, he posted a 2.26 ERA while the rest of the AL sat at 4.65, more than double Pedro’s number.
Dave Roberts: Yes, he played only 45 regular season games in Boston and totaled only 0.3 WAR. Yes, I know he doesn’t belong here. But in the 2004 ALCS with the Red Sox trailing the Yankees 3-0 in the series and 4-3 in the game, with Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning, Roberts pinch ran for Kevin Millar after a walk, stole second, and scored. If he didn’t steal that base, maybe, just maybe, it would have all been different. That game changed my life and the lives of many Red Sox fans. And it’s my Rushmore. I can be a little jealous.
Next week, we look at the Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta Braves.
With word coming in the in the last week or so that Steve Kerr would miss some time in the NBA playoffs, I got to thinking about how much credit a coach deserves for a ring if he’s not with the team for such a significant portion of the season. Because I don’t know a lot about basketball, that thinking came to a close pretty quickly. Taking its place is the idea about crediting baseball players for rings. I wanted to know not just who won rings though. BBREF does that quite well on their own. And when looking at that list, we see Frankie Crosetti with eight rings, Johnny Murphy with seven, Joe Collins with six, Luis Sojo with five, and other fun things like that.
What I wanted to know, however, is about the real contributors to titles. There are zillions of ways to do such a thing, I imagine, and I don’t want to suggest that my plan is the best way. Maybe it’s not even a good way. But it’s a way. And it’s kind of fun. I looked at every 5-WAR player (star) and every 8-WAR player (superstar) on every World Series winner. If you were a star for a championship team, I assigned you with five points. If you were a superstar, you got eight. Without further ado, here are the results.
Stars (5 points)
There have been 148 times in which a player put up a 5-WAR season for a team that won the World Series but never did it again. Shane Mack did it, but Kirby Puckett never did. Bob Gibson was incredible in the World Series twice, but he was only a star during the regular season one of those times. David Ortiz is on this list just once, the same number of times as Aubrey Huff, Tiny Bonham, Doc White, and Darin Erstad. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo did so last year and hope to repeat this season.
Superstars (8 points)
There are 26 players who had exactly one superstar season that led to a World Series victory. They include some of the greatest ever: Cy Young, George Brett, Randy Johnson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt, and Christy Mathewson. They also include such forgotten guys as Bill James (not that one, but I wish), Dick Rudolph, and Jim Bagby.
Double Stars (10 points)
There were 22 players who starred on two World Series winners. Guys who struck me as somewhat surprising include Devon White and Tony Lazzeri. Guys who didn’t have great careers but did have some star seasons include Phil Rizzuto, Catfish Hunter, and Lou Brock. We think of that trio as this great because they were great in October. Also on the list are hidden greats like Sal Bando and Graig Nettles. Buster Posey is here too, hoping to move to elite territory in the coming years.
Superstar/Star (13 points)
There are just 23 players ever at this level or higher. The complete list of 13 pointers is Mordecai Brown, Lefty Grove, Mort Cooper, Curt Schilling, and Albert Pujols.
Triple Star (15 points)
Here we have a trio of Yankees in Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, and Bernie Williams. Bernie provides a nice reminder here of how great he was. I would have guessed we’d have seen more points out of Berra. And though Reggie was two-time champ as a Yankee, he scored all of his points with the A’s. The last guy on this list is Home Run Baker, who produced three strong campaigns in 1910, 1911, and 1913 with Philadelphia. So I guess we have two Yankees and two A’s.
Double Stud (16 points)
Here we’re reminded about why many of still remember Smoky Joe Wood in spite of only 117 career wins and 1434.1 career innings. We also see Sandy Koufax on this list, as well as Joe Morgan from 1975 and 1976.
Stud/Double Star (18 points)
This is the land of Derek Jeter. The Captain was very impressive in 1998 and again in 2009, and it was his career year of 1999 that ranks him so high on this list. As a frequent Jeter basher, I would have liked for a lesser result. Alas, he’s deserving.
The Top Ten Quad Star (20 points)
Joe Gordon reaches this level due excellence with the Yankees in 1939, 1941, and 1943, as well as brilliance with the 1948 Indians. Though Gordon did a ton to get his teams to October, only once in his four appearances did he hit over .235. To his credit though, he did hit .500 in 1941.
If the standard were 5.2-WAR, Bill Dickey would only make the list once. But while Yogi might have the most rings, it was Dickey’s run with the 1936-1939 Yankee dynasty that ranks him as the best catcher among this group.
Tris Speaker, #7 (21 points, tie)
Speaker only made it to three World Series, two with the Red Sox and one with the Indians. He won all three, posting a .306/.398/.458 line in 83 trips to the plate. He had the best year of his career for the 1912 Sox, posting 10.1 WAR. He dropped back a bit in 1915 with only 7.7 WAR. And then as an Indian in 1920 he managed 8.5 WAR.
Stan Musial, #7 (21 points, tie)
Like Speaker, Musial won three World Series. He was a star in 1942 and a superstar in both 1944 and 1946. His performances for the Cards were quite pedestrian, slashing .256/.347/.395 with just one home run in 99 plate appearances. Still, without Stan the Man’s greatness, the Cardinals wouldn’t have had the chance to earn their rings.
Red Ruffing, #6 (25 points)
Ruffing has six rings in all. Like Bill Dickey, he was a star from 1936-1939, though not necessarily because of his work on the mound. In 1936 he offered just 4.0 pitching WAR, and in 1939 it was 4.4. But his excellent bat pulled him above 5.0 each year. When we add Ruffing’s career-best mound work in 1932, we have our first guy on the list to have five star seasons when his team won.
Eddie Collins, #5 (26 points)
Collins is without a doubt one of the most underrated superstars in the game’s history. And he’s the top non-Yankee on this list. He won four rings, the first three of which were with the Philadelphia A’s in 1910, 1911, and 1913. His final title came as a part of the 1917 White Sox. The star second sacker scored 10.5 WAR in 1910, he dropped down to 6.5 in 1911, he scored eight more points with 9.0 WAR in 1913, and he finished off his scoring with 5.0 WAR in 1917. His overall performance in the World Series was excellent, as seen by his .328/.381/.414 career line in 147 plate appearances. In three of his wins he hit over .400, and in two he slugged over .600.
Joe DiMaggio, #3 (34 points, tie)
If you’ve read this far, there no doubt you already know the top four guys on this list. DiMaggio is the third Yankee from 1936-1939 to make it; five points in 1936 and 1938 and eight points in the other two years. There’s another eight points in 1941, and at age-35 he added another five points in 1950. But DiMaggio wasn’t an amazing World Series performer, posting only a .271/.338/.422 line over 220 plate appearances.
Lou Gehrig, #3 (34 points, tie)
We start with 11.8 WAR in 1927, move to 9.4 in 1928, follow that up with 7.9 in 1932, 9.1 in 1936, and 7.7 in 1937. So we’re looking at just 0.4 WAR over two years away from 40 points and second place on this list. His .361/.483/.731 line in 150 trips is even better than his career .340/.447/.632 line.
Mickey Mantle, #2 (39 points)
It’s Mantle, not Gehrig, who ranks second. As a kid in 1952 and 1953, Mantle put up 6.5 and 5.3 WAR. By 1956, Mantle was a monster, posting 11.2 WAR. In 1958 he put up 8.7, and he killed it to the tune of 10.5 in 1961. By 1962, he was on the decline, putting up 5.9 WAR in his last excellent season. You might know that Mantle is the all-time leader in World Series home runs, runs batted in, runs, walks, and total bases.
Babe Ruth, #1 (45 points)
There’s no need to detail it all. This is just another data point to show that Ruth is the best player ever. What’s pretty surprising to me is that of his seven rings, only four are with the Yankees. His three rings in Boston put him behind only Harry Hooper and Heinie Wagner as Red Sox with four.
I don’t think that this “study” is very revealing, but it does say something. It points to the greatness of Eddie Collins and Joe Gordon, shows us that pitchers’ bats matter with the inclusion of Red Ruffing, and reminds us that Reggie Jackson was really an Athletic, not a Yankee. Oh, and Babe Ruth is the best player ever.
My Pop-Pop used to say to me all the time, “You know something. I just don’t know.” That’s deep on a lot of spiritual and philosophical levels, but today I’m reminded of it from a baseball history perspective. Miller and I have had our head stuck in the 1930s and 1940s these past few weeks. Like a machete-wielding Indiana Jones in the jungles of South America, we’ve hacked through some play-by-play (PBP) stats on BBREF to see whether there’s some hidden treasures in pre-war MLB.
Turns out there probably are, and it made me realize just how much we don’t know about the 1910s and 1920s. However, we’ve learned enough from our little journey through Depression-era baseball that we can point to a few places where we don’t know much yet but see a glimmer of what we might could know someday. So let’s see if we can’t identify the traits to look for and those who might possess them.
In our previous articles, we identified three areas of hidden value: baserunning, double-play avoidance, and outfield throwing. So let’s make a little rubric out of these traits. In classic Bill James fashion, we’ll assign each area of value on a five-point scale, so a perfect 15 is the most likely to have hidden value.
Baserunning: We have steals and for some seasons we have caught stealing, and we know that league-wide steals rates were about 55%.
Provided a player is under 5 points,
Double-play avoidance: We have no info here, but we know that three things affect a batter’s likelihood to ground into a double play: Handedness, speed, and groundball/flyball tendencies. The groundball/flyball tendencies are tough to spot in the data, so we’ll have to set them aside now.
Strong outfield arm: Our lone means to examine this for early players is how often a player led his league in assists or finished in the top five. But the correlation in left field and centerfield between assists and a valuable arm is pretty weak.
Led right fielders in assists three times or more and regularly finished among top five
Led centerfielders in assists five or more times, frequently finished among top five
Led left fielders in assists 10 times
Led right fielders in assists one or two times and regularly finished among top five
Led centerfielders in assists three or more times, frequently finished among top five
Led left fielders in assists 7+ times, regularly finished among top five
Frequently finished among top five in right field assists
Led centerfielders in assists 1-2 times or more, regularly finished among top five
Led left fielders in assists five or more times, frequently finished among top five
Sometimes finished among top five in right field assists
Frequently finished among top five in centerfield assists
Led left fielders in assists three times or more and regularly finished among top five
Now, with our scoring rubric in hand, let’s look at the players with most potential hidden value.
Max Carey (centerfielder, 14 points)
Scoops leads the pack, and I’m going to go into greater detail on him than the others because he’s probably got the most dynamic upward jump. Not only did he steal 40+ bags a year, but he did so at a 79% clip in the nine years we have data for. Remember, that’s against a 55% league average. As a speedy switch hitter, he’s a prime candidate to have strong DP avoidance. He led NL centerfielders in assists six times and finished three other times in the top five. He also led left fielders twice, and finished second another year. I did a little comping to see what kind of value Carey might gain once his full PBP story is known.
In so far as baserunning is concerned, for the nine seasons in which we have Carey’s steals and caught stealings, he would earn him about 60 runs above average. Even if Carey stole at a rate ten points worse in the seasons we don’t know about than those we do, he’d gain another 30 or so runs. I looked at all players since 1947 who stole 500 bases. The portion of their baserunning earned by stealing was 62%. Applying that same ratio to Carey with 90 steals runs, he would earn an additional 56 runs. Call it 150 runs, or about 60 more than the 88 rBaser that BBREF has him down for.
I also comped him against speedy switch hitters with at least 5000 PA and 30 or more rBaser. Using their per-PA average, I get about +20 runs against the league. BBREF has no rDP values prior to 1948.
Finally, in the outfield, I looked at centerfielders since 1952 with as similar a record of assists leaderboard placements to Carey’s as I could. I figured their rOF/game and applied it Carey’s games played. The result is another 20 or so runs. Here’s that group in case you were interested. It turns out that no one in the PBP era has a throwing record like Carey’s, so we do our best:
DEF G CF LED TOP 5 NAME AS CF rOF IN A IN A ========================================== Carlos Beltran 1572 0 4 3 Willie Davis 2239 + 7 2 9 Jim Edmonds 1768 +42 4 5 Steve Finley 2314 +13 3 6 Curt Flood 1692 -15 3 8 Ken Griffey, Jr. 2145 +57 2 9 Andruw Jones 1724 +48 3 4 Kenny Lofton 1984 +30 4 5 Mickey Mantle 1742 +16 2 8 Willie Mays 2829 +49 3 12 Amos Otis 1825 - 3 2 5 Vada Pinson 1681 +25 3 7 Kirby Puckett 1432 +20 3 5 Bill Tuttle 1146 +22 5 1 Del Unser 1117 + 8 4 2
So in total, Carey could pick up as many as 80 runs or 8 WAR on offense and whatever the difference is between the rOF reckoned here and the credit his arm gets in whatever defensive system you use. That’s a boatload of value that could push him into the top 10 centerfielders of all time.
In the rest of this post, I’m going to use the same comping methods to assess potential value.
Tris Speaker (centerfielder, 13 points)
Doing the same sorts of comps-based analysis with Speaker, I get 5 rBaser (vs BBREF’s 1) for the seasons we have SB/CS data for. They account for 60% of his career, so call it 7 runs total. He also gets 15 runs of rDP, and at least the same number of throwing runs that Carey gets. En toto, that’s a net gain of about 40 runs. Probably not enough to catch up to Willie Mays and the next guy….
Ty Cobb (centerfielder, 13 points)
The Georgia Peach’s 64% known stolen base percentage is almost 10 points above the league average. But mostly those are his elder baseball years, and they are only about 55% of his seasons. His comps would be the same as Carey’s, and I would estimate Cobb could be as many as 20–25 runs higher than the 52 BBREF gives him. As a fast, hustling, lefty swinger, he’s got a chance at a lot of value on the DP front. Comping nets him about 35 runs of DP avoidance. In the outfield, his assists record isn’t very strong at all. Best to reckon him at 0 runs for now. So overall, I suspect Cobb gains 50 to 60 runs to keep ahead of The Say Hey Kid.
Harry Hooper (right fielder, 13 points)
Hoop gets dinged for his baserunning by BBREF’s current estimator, to the tune of -7 runs. His comps suggest that figure might be the inverse, +10 runs. He’ll probably add about the same in DP avoidance runs as well. We’ve previously estimated that Hooper, one of the reputed best arms prior to Clemente, could add dozens of runs of throwing. He led AL right fielders in assists three times and was in the top 5 nine other times. He is second all-time in right field assists to you-know-who. In addition, BBREF doesn’t have pre-1913 outfield breakouts, but in 1910, he led the AL in outfield assists. His 344 assists are 6th all-time among all outfielders. Seems likely the guy had a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it. I pulled comps, but few guys have a record like Hooper’s, and I’m a little shy of putting Clemente and Barfield into anyone’s comps because they break the scale. Without them, Hooper’s looking at about 50 runs per the comps. With them, he’d be pushing 60 runs. All told, it’s about 70 to 80 runs, which ain’t half bad, and would give him a surge to 70+ WAR. It looks like we probably got this one right. We get a f__ing medal for that, right?
Ross Youngs (right fielder, 13 points)
Youngs likely sees little change in his baserunning. A couple runs here or there, though at least a couple/few better than the -4 BBREF calculates. Same for double-play avoidance. He might be up to 5 or 10 additional runs so far. However, in his 10 years, he led NL right fielders in assists five times and finished in the top 5 six times. Obviously, that’s a great record. Using the same comps as Hooper, I’d peg him around 25 rOF. En toto, he probably gains 30 or 40 runs, enough to put him in a league with guys like Paul O’Neill or Gavy Cravath at a career level. He was a better player than many Hall bashers give him credit for, but not nearly the player Frankie Frisch claimed.
Clyde Milan (centerfielder, 12.5 points)
This forgotten deadball centerfielder already gets +24 baserunning runs from BBREF. However, in the seasons we have full SB/CS records, his comps suggest there’s perhaps another 10 runs out there for him. However, that’s only about half his career. Milan could, therefore, have another 35 runs in the hopper, totaling out around 70 rBaser. That’s about 50 more runs that BBREF pegs him at. As a fast lefty, comps indicate he could also be missing 20 or more runs DP avoidance runs. Unfortunately for Milan, his record of 1 assists title and 4 other trips into the top 5 probably means he was an average thrower, maybe a little better. But tacking on another 70 runs, or roughly 7 WAR, pushes him up over 50 wins (as I calculate it), making him a low borderliner.
Edd Roush (centerfielder, 11 points)
The Hall of Famer and Hall of Merit member gets hit by BBREF WAR with -8 rBaser and iffy fielding numbers. The SB/CS data suggests he wasn’t a great base thief, which drags down the likelihood of his gaining much by rBaser. Currently, I’m guessing he was an average runner, but he might have been a Brett Butler type: good at everything but stealing. Roush probably picks up 5–10 runs of DP avoidance thanks to being a lefty without a limp. In the outfield, there are few centerfielders with his assists record. He’s fourth all-time in centerfield assists and finished in the top 5 eleven times—he only played 100 or more games in 14 seasons. But he only led the NL once during all that time. Not many modern players fit that kind of profile. The very small handful I found suggest he could have added 10–20 runs with his arm. En toto, he could pick up one to three WAR, which is enough to rise two or three spots in the centerfield rankings, but not enough to push him onto the borderline. Still, he’s one to watch because if his PBP data is really strong, and the comps are underselling him, he could climb fast.
Eddie Collins (second baseman, 10 points)
Collins has the same comps for baserunning as Carey and Cobb, and his known stolen base percentage is better than Tyrus Raymond’s. But Cobb’s volume of steals allows him to finish ahead of Collins in total running runs. Collins appears to be a +60–65 runner. BBREF has him at +40, so he gains 20–25 runs on the bases. He’s got the same comps as Cobb for DP avoidance, which puts him at about +30 in that department. Call it 50 additional runs. The contest among Collins, Nap Lajoie, and Rogers Hornsby for best prewar second baseman, just got a little tighter…particularly because as a relatively slow righty, Hornsby will likely lose runs when PBP data comes along.
George Sisler (first baseman, 9.5 points)
It really is a terrible shame that Sisler’s career never recovered from a terrible bout with sinusitis in 1923 that left him with double vision. This condition affected him on the bases as well as at the plate. He immediately dropped from 35–40 stolen bases a year to 15–20. His last hurrah on the bases was 1927, when his 27 thefts led the league. It was his only season post-sinusitis where he reached 20 steals. Anyway, we are missing CS info for Sisler’s age-24 through age-26 seasons, when he averaged around 35 swipes a year. Still, his comps imply a +40 runner. BBREF figures him at +13. In terms of staying out of the deuce, Sisler looks like roughly a +20 hitter. Together, that’s about 45 additional runs on his resume. Depending on what position you assign Rose, Musial, Banks, Thomas, and Carew to, Sisler could wind up as a top-tenner at first base.
George J. Burns (left fielder, 8 points)
This is the NL Burns, the one whose nickname wasn’t “Tioga.” Nor the cigar-chomping comedian. He was a better player than either of those other Burnses, too. He doesn’t look great on the bases. He stole 383, but among the seasons we know about, his percentage is worse than the league. BBREF shows him at +1 rBaser, and I’ve got him at -10. He was a speedy guy, could be he’ll get a lot of value back from advancement. Burns comps out at about -15 rDP thanks to being right handed. In the outfield, Burns doesn’t do much better. He led the NL in left field assists once, placed in the top 5 five times. Call it -10 runs. So George J. Burns could be looking at a drop of 30 runs. Unless the real stats come in significantly different, he’s got little hope of improving his low-borderliner status in left field. I admit to a little skepticism until we see his actual advancement data. Could be he loses nothing and ends up as a 0 rDP guy.
That’s the highlights reel. There’s also a lot of players likely to lose value. The aforementioned Hornsby, Miller and Eric favorites Dave Bancroft and Art Fletcher. Hall of Merit honoree, Heinie Groh is another. Somewhere in the middle are our pal Wally Schang, and the famed Harry Heilmann and Zack Wheat and the less famed Bobby Veach. Sadly, though, we have to wrap up by looping back to what my Pop-Pop said: “I just don’t know.” And we won’t until Retrosheet is able to deliver the data they need. Since that data is in some cases more than 100 years old, it may never happen.